Is My Cell Phone Going To Be Liberated?

I wrote a column a while back bemoaning the fact that Verizon does not let me control my own phone. I had wanted use MP3 files, recorded by friends and family, as person-specific ring tones on my phone. The idea was, when Fred called, to have my phone announce (in Fred’s voice), “Hey, this is Fred! Pick up, will ya!” But, alas, Verizon disabled my ability to moved files on and off my Motorola Razr, requiring that I use their proprietary V Cast service instead.

Now I read that Verizon  has decided to open their cell phone system to developers, and even allow subscribers to use cell phones from other companies on their system. All of this is supposed to take place by the first quarter of 2008, which is coincidently when I should be getting a new phone under Verizon’s New Every Two Plan. There may be some chance that I will be able to have my ultra-geeky ring-tones yet!

This is a significant departure from the previous philosophy of the company on this issue. Verizon is calling it their “any apps, any device” strategy. The wireless industry is facing increased pressure from consumers to open their systems, which have always tightly controlled which mobile devices and application programs could be used on their networks. There is still an issue of wireless standards to hurdle. Verizon’s network is CDMA ; this is not universally true. For example, the iPhone would not work on the Verizon network.

Still, this is a significant victory for consumer groups. The Chairman of the FCC, Kevin Martin, has praised the Verizon announcement, saying that “more openness — at the network, device, and application level — helps foster innovation and enhances consumers’ freedom and choice in purchasing wireless service.” There is also some pressure on closed networks from the supposed entry of open-market icon Google into the wireless network. Google has recently announced that they will be bidding on a newly opened area of cellular bandwidth at the next FCC auction.

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